Having a baby comes with the onset of a whole slew of "what now?" moments. Aside from a body you no longer recognize (and the pain associated), hormonal shifts, and a brand-new crying baby who needs you every second of the day, there's also breastfeeding to contend with. For some, it's a breeze, or at the very least, manageable. I wasn't so lucky — like, at all. In fact, breastfeeding actually made my postpartum anxiety worse — yes, worse.
During my first pregnancy, I had all kinds of plans. I was going to get my pre-baby body "back" in a snap (yeah, right), sleep when the baby sleeps (ha!), and breastfeed just as my mother had. After all, how hard could it be? (Don't answer that, because if you've ever tried breastfeeding and it wasn't a breeze, you'll understand where I'm going with this.)
Those first hours holding my brand new baby girl were euphoric. In a fog-filled haze, I still remember looking at her wondering what do I do now? as if everything I had planned so strategically vanished from my brain. I learned quickly that while it's one thing to plan, it's quite another to execute. When the nurse told me it was time to give breastfeeding a try, I was scared, but more than happy to. I'd looked forward to those moments for nine long months and couldn't wait to feel all the things so many other mothers experienced.
However, it didn't go that way for me. Just as with a lot of mothers, my girl wouldn't latch. A lactation consultant came in to walk me through, and the pressure to do this "simple, natural thing" became too much. My daughter screamed and thrashed and I sobbed, feeling like I hadn't even started my motherhood journey and I'd already failed her.
I didn't quit right away because I felt I owed it to her and myself to try until I'd tried everything. While we ended up having to formula feed in the hospital, we arranged to have a lactation consultant come to the house to give me a more dedicated lesson where, hopefully, I'd feel more calm. Honestly, it didn't help, and if anything, made things worse. By this point — days after birth — I was sleep deprived, my daughter was hungry, and my anxiety and postpartum depression (PPD) mounting. Every time I finally got her to latch, either there would be no milk letdown or my daughter refused me altogether.
Between all of this, we finally came to an impasse and gave into the bottle. I was disappointed in myself and when I think back, I still am. I don't know if things would've ever worked themselves out but my mental health was in dire need of changing course. Whether you've successfully mastered the art of breastfeeding (and I truly believe it's an art form), or if you're like me and gave it your very best and still didn't make it, it doesn't make you any more or less than a mother.
For those of you who battle anxiety who also maybe missed out on the bond because of going to the bottle, I'm hugging you right now because I get it. We're all doing the best we know how, and it's all we can do, you know? With that, here are some of the ways breastfeeding made my postpartum anxiety worse. If you're in the same boat, hang in there; there's no shame in trying another path.
I Couldn't Get Past The Pain
I knew and understood there may be some discomfort, and even pain, associated with being a first-time breastfeeding mother. For me, it went beyond that. It hurt — bad — so my body would tighten up before I let my daughter try again. So it seems we were destined to fail from the moment she attempted a latch and because it hurt and I'd get anxious about the pain, it was an endless cycle just trying to get her fed. I hated every moment of it and knew there had to be a better way without every session ending in tears. Resenting breastfeeding, my daughter, and being a mother at all was no way to begin our journey together.
It Didn't Feel "Natural"
I come from a somewhat trauma-filled past so the act of breastfeeding never felt natural to me, no matter how I talked myself into believing it. While I do know, logically, breastfeeding should in no way be sexualized, I was exposed to unfortunate things growing up, which changed the way my brain reacts to something so beautiful and "natural." I really admire mothers able to follow through, but for me, before even sitting down to do it, I was far too anxious over the negative feelings associated with breastfeeding
Even with my second second, I couldn't get past any of my previous issues, so we decided early on he'd be a formula baby so not to go through all the mental damage I'd suffered, which ended up going from anxiety to severe PPD with my daughter. I look back on those days with such sadness, wishing I could've done this for them but alas, it just wasn't for me.
My Anxiety Made The Baby Fussy
Anxiety is its own weird entity. You have it; it makes others anxious; you're anxious about them being anxious. I've yet to find anything that ever really breaks the cycle completely, as the more I stress over something, the worse I feel (and the worse others feel, too). My daughter was in tune with my energy before she tried to latch and I think it frustrated her knowing I was anxious about it. It wasn't ideal for either of us and I didn't want her to be sad or anxious because of me. This changed the way we bonded and the way I dealt with my postpartum life. I started avoided sitting to feed her, the fear cycle starting all over again. I'd give anything to never be the one to make my kids feel anything negative like that and yet, there I was.
The Social Phobia Was Overwhelming
It's one thing to attempt breastfeeding in my own home, with no one watching and it's quite another doing it outside of the house, or even home with people visiting. I dreaded it. Already dealing with social anxiety and, again, worsening PPD, the last thing I wanted to do was draw more attention to my crying baby who couldn't latch or a crying mother (me) who felt inadequate.
There Was Too Much Outside Pressure
I understand why breastfeeding has its own advocacy groups and lactation consultants and champions. And again, I really wish I'd been able to be part of these clubs, having gone "all the way" with breastfeeding my kids. But the truth is, having anxiety over it already, it certainly didn't help to constantly hear "breast is best" or "keep trying — you'll get it." I know everyone meant well, but all it did was cause more stress that I was failing my baby.
There's tons of advice and support out there for those who struggle and wish to push through for the sake of their baby and again, bless you. It's a wonderful thing to put your baby's needs above your own in those early days and weeks. I wish a lot of things had been different so that I could've done the same, but it wasn't so.
Once I decided to give up my breastfeeding dream, I honestly felt a little more free because I didn't have all the pressure forcing me to do something I knew, deep down, wasn't for me. Ten years later, we're doing OK and guess what? They don't remember any of it other than the fact that their mom? She was always there for them.